Fertility and Cancer Treatment
There are many reasons why is it particularly difficult and unfair to be diagnosed and treated for cancer as a young man or woman. One of the major ones is the impact on fertility and the painful loss of choice. There is the obvious big problem of having vital organs (e.g. ovaries) removed and the sometimes equally big problems caused by radiation to sexual organs and/or chemotherapy. This is an excellent review from Cancer Net about these concerns:.
Fertility and Cancer Treatment
Last Updated: June 02, 2010
This section has been reviewed and approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 06/10
Certain types of cancer treatments can affect fertility (a woman's ability to conceive a child or maintain a pregnancy and a man's ability to father a child).
There are various options to help preserve fertility in men and women.
Before treatment begins, talk with your doctor about the possible fertility-related side effects of your treatment and the available options for preserving fertility.
Infertility can be a temporary or permanent side effect of some cancer treatments. Today, there are many options to help people diagnosed and treated for cancer to preserve their fertility, and the chances of maintaining your fertility are greatest if you discuss your options as early as possible with your health care team.
How cancer treatment affects the body
Various cancer treatments—including surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy—can cause infertility under certain circumstances. Surgery to the sex organs or areas around these organs may reduce fertility.
The risk of infertility from chemotherapy depends on the type and dose of drug, as well as how it's given, while the risk of infertility from radiation therapy depends on the dose of radiation and the area of the body that is exposed to radiation.
The endocrine glands and endocrine-related organs—such as the ovaries, testes, thyroid, and adrenal gland—release hormones that stimulate puberty, control fertility, and regulate growth throughout the body. Problems occur when cancer or the cancer treatment damages one of these glands or organs or alters the part of the brain that controls the endocrine glands. For example, chemotherapy and radiation
therapy may reduce a man's number of sperm cells or limit their mobility. In women, chemotherapy and radiation therapy may affect a woman's menstrual cycle, possibly causing her to stop ovulating or to enter premature menopause.
People past the age of puberty may be at greater risk for infertility than younger children. For example, a man's testes are more vulnerable to the damaging effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy than a boy's testes. In the same way, girls' ovaries can often tolerate higher doses of chemotherapy than women's ovaries.
Because it is possible for a woman to become pregnant or for a man to impregnate a woman during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, both men and women should talk with their doctor about birth control methods if they are sexually active during this time. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy may cause birth defects or harm the fetus.
Cancer treatment and fertility-preserving options
Discussions about how to attempt to preserve your fertility need to happen before cancer treatment. Age, gender, physical and sexual maturation, and, in some cases, relationship status (for example, whether a woman currently has a partner) affect the options available for fertility preservation. Your doctor and/or a reproductive endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in fertility issues) can help you learn about your options.
Unfortunately, not all options are available or appropriate for everyone. Fertility-preserving procedures may be stressful during an already dif?cult time, and they are not always effective. Many options, including in vitro fertilization (a process that involves collecting a woman's eggs and fertilizing them with sperm outside her body, then transferring the embryo back into her body for it to develop) and embryo
cryopreservation (freezing fertilized eggs for later reimplantation), may be costly. In addition, some people may face ethical questions about various options, so it is important to talk with your doctor to ?nd the information you need to make the best decision. You may also consider speaking with a counselor for guidance about these decisions. Learn more about how to ?nd a counselor.
Fertility-preserving options for men
Protection of the testes from radiation therapy. In men, it is possible to shield the testes from radiation if the cancer is present in other parts of the pelvis.
Sperm cryopreservation (sperm banking). This procedure involves freezing and storing of semen for men who wish to father children later in life. It is an option for most men who have reached sexual maturity.
Testicular-tissue cryopreservation and reimplantation. This investigational option involves the removal, freezing, and storage of testicular tissue that is surgically reimplanted after cancer treatment.
Hormonal gonadoprotection. This approach uses hormone therapy to protect testicular tissue during chemotherapy or radiation therapy, and it is still investigational.
Fertility-preserving options for women
Protection of the ovaries from radiation therapy. For women receiving radiation therapy to the pelvic region, it can be dif?cult to shield one or both ovaries. If both ovaries receive radiation treatment, infertility may be permanent. However, in many cases, both ovaries do not receive radiation treatment, so any resulting infertility may not be permanent. Another option is oophoropexy, which involves surgically moving one or both ovaries out of the radiation ?eld.
Embryo cryopreservation. This is the process of harvesting eggs for in vitro fertilization and freezing the embryos for later use in women of reproductive age. Some ethical issues—such as what to do with unused fertilized embryos—arise with this technique and require careful discussion.
Oocyte (unfertilized egg) cryopreservation. Freezing unfertilized eggs is currently investigational.
Ovarian-tissue preservation. This method is currently investigational; it requires the surgical removal, preservation, and reimplantation of ovarian tissue both before and after puberty. This may not be a practical option for girls younger than age 18 because of informed consent issues.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormones (GnRH) analog treatment. In this investigational approach, GnRHs are given along with chemotherapy to potentially reduce the possible harmful effects of chemotherapy on the reproductive organs and to lower the risk of infertility after treatment.
Abdominal radical trachelectomy. Recent research shows that women with cervical cancer who have surgery to remove the cervix while keeping the uterus intact may become pregnant. In such cases, the baby would be delivered by cesarean section.
Oral contraception. Some research shows that women who take oral contraceptives (birth control pills) during chemotherapy may conserve eggs following treatment. This approach is still investigational and
may not be recommended for a woman with a tumor that is sensitive to hormones (such as some types of breast cancer).
Questions to ask the doctor about cancer treatment and fertility
It is important to talk with your doctor (or your child's doctor) as early as possible in the treatment process about how cancer treatment may affect fertility. Many interventions to preserve fertility need to take place before cancer treatment begins.
Consider asking your doctor the following questions:
What are the short-term and long-term effects of cancer treatment on my (or my child's) fertility?
What is the risk of permanent infertility associated with the treatments recommended for my type, stage, and grade of cancer? Are there other treatments that could be considered that do not pose as high a risk but are equally effective?
What are the options for preserving my fertility before treatment?
What are the options for preserving my fertility during or after treatment?
Do any of these fertility preservation options make my cancer treatment(s) less effective?
Do any of these fertility preservation options increase the risk that the cancer may come back?
Can I become pregnant (women) or impregnate someone (men) while receiving chemotherapy or radiation therapy? What happens if pregnancy results during treatment? What is the risk of birth defects and/or harm to the fetus and/or mother?
How long must I wait after treatment before trying to become pregnant (women) or to impregnate someone (men)?
Is it appropriate for me to consult a specialist in reproductive endocrinology?
Where can I ?nd support for coping with fertility issues?
What to Know: ASCO's Guideline on Fertility Preservation
Having a Child After Cancer Treatment
Sexual and Reproductive Health
LiveStrong: Female Infertility and Male Infertility
American Cancer Society: Fertility and Cancer - What Are My Options?
RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association